How to save Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares from being disqualified as a presidential candidate in the May 2016 elections has prompted her most zealous, though not necessarily the most capable, supporters to circle their wagons around her. They are trying to put up a defense, although based on fallacious assumptions and spotty calculations, and organized outside the legal process taking place in the Commission on Elections.
Four petitions are seeking her disqualification or the cancellation of her certificate of candidacy on two constitutional grounds. First, she is not a natural-born Filipino, which means a citizen from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect her citizenship. Second, on the day of the 2016 election she will not have resided in the country for 10 years, as required by the Constitution.
The Comelec’s Second Division has already ruled on the petition by former GSIS legal counsel Estrella Elamparo, and ordered the cancellation of Mrs. Llamanzares’s CoC, based mainly on her insufficient residency. The First Division is set to rule on the three other petitions, beginning with my own petition, which is primarily anchored on her not being natural-born.
A curious mix of defenders
Now a former Supreme Court chief justice, a former dean of a school of government, and the immediate past chairman of the Commission on Elections have separately assailed the ruling of the Second Division in the press. The most surprising claim came from the former chief justice who said that every foundling is a natural-born citizen under international law, regardless of what the Constitution says. This is a complete misreading of the Constitution and international law.
Even more audacious is the theory advanced by former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr., who said the Comelec had no jurisdiction over any of the candidates’ non-compliance with the Constitution on the issue of qualifications. Let the candidates run now, he said, and if there be any question about qualifications, let the matter be raised before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal later, should the candidate win.
A novel theory
It was a novel theory even for lawyers. It was not clear whether Brillantes, who lawyered for Fernando Poe, Jr., Grace Poe’s adoptive father, when he ran for president in 2004, could now practice election law after retiring recently as Comelec chair, and that he was now one of Mrs. Llamanzares’s lawyers. His statement, like that of former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban on the alleged natural-born status of all foundlings, merely recycled what lawyer George Erwin Garcia had said on Mrs. Llamanzares’s behalf at the First Division’s “clarificatory hearing” on Nov. 25.
So obvious was its absurdity that Chairman Andres Bautista could not help but rebuke his predecessor. He had to point out that the Comelec has primary jurisdiction over all electoral questions before the holding of elections; only when the controversy arises after the election do the electoral tribunals assume jurisdiction. Indeed, if the Comelec has no jurisdiction over Mrs. Llamanzares’s non-compliance with the requirements of the Constitution, then it can have no jurisdiction over any other candidate’s non-compliance with the same requirements.
Specifically, if the Comelec has no authority or power to make sure that each presidential candidate is natural-born, then it has no business making sure that each candidate is a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years of age on the day of the election, and known to have resided in the country for 10 years on the day of the election.
Who will deal with the nuisance candidates?
This means the Comelec cannot declare anyone a “nuisance candidate,” not even the perennial candidates of the past, a Pascual Racuyal or a Lucio de Gala, both of happy memory. None of these “nuisance candidates” necessarily lack any of the qualifications enumerated in the Constitution: they are natural-born citizens, registered voters, able to read and write, not less than 40 years of age, and residents of the country all their lives. In fact, the late Lucio de Gala used to point out that he alone, among the candidates, had a doctor’s certificate saying he was “mentally sound” or at least “not mentally ill.” Not even President B. S. Aquino 3rd could make the same claim.
But they are called “nuisance candidates” because they lack any demonstrable capability to wage a credible nationwide campaign. Were we to accept the Brillantes theory, the Comelec would not have the power to declare anyone a “nuisance candidate” for any reason whatsoever. In the May election, we would have all of the 130 presidential candidates running.
This is not to say that Mrs. Llamanzares can no longer raise the issue of jurisdiction. Like anyone tossing in turbulent waters, she is free to grab at any straw to avoid drowning. But she will have to raise the issue not just yet, but later, if and when her case goes up to the Supreme Court, should the two Comelec divisions disqualify her together and the Comelec en banc confirms their decision. She apparently expects nothing less, for her camp has started accusing her natural-born presidential adversaries of trying to pressure the Comelec into having her irretrievably disqualified.
Who’s trying to pressure whom?
My own sources tell me that her private funders, who may already have spent over P300 million or so on highly questionable TV ads and manufactured surveys, according to conservative estimates, are the ones trying to buy favors from the Comelec and the Supreme Court, except that nobody seems to believe they could sell out on such an open-and-shut case and get away with it. The Constitution is so clear that it can never be legitimately interpreted in her favor, no matter what; no member of the Comelec or the Supreme Court may want to risk perpetual ignominy by selling out, even for several hundred million pesos. Whoever sells out may have to hang like Judas and be hounded all their lives, possibly even after they are gone.
What should Grace Poe try to save?
I would therefore reiterate my proposal to Mrs. Llamanzares: save your honor and your soul, and try to contribute to the integrity of the May 2016 elections by giving up your inordinate ambition, and stop your funders, who want to own you and the next government, from dictating your next move. Even if, by some quirk of fate, the truth and the Constitution are bastardized and you end up with a judgment in your favor declaring you as a “natural-born Filipino,” you cannot possibly want to become President of the Philippines, while sleeping with an American husband and being surrounded by American children. Unless, of course, you believe that our people believe sovereignty and national dignity mean nothing,
The Comelec’s real challenge
Likewise, for the Comelec, I would point out that the disqualification of Mrs. Llamanzares on undisputable constitutional grounds is a turning point for the institution. And I would reiterate my proposal that the constitutional body use it as an opportunity to refurbish its badly tarnished image while there is still time. Our people expect it. Two years after the May 13, 2013 senatorial elections, and less than six months before the May 9, 2016 elections, they await some credible signs that the constitutional body is eager to conduct clean, honest and credible elections, regardless of what the political administration may want it to do.
So far there are no such signs, but the Comelec may still be able to save the situation, if it wants to. Despite the highly reproachable conduct of the 2010 and 2013 elections, which produced so many de facto government officials, and despite the fact that Smartmatic-TIM has been exposed by the London-based KPMG auditing firm, one of the world’s top auditing firms, as a wholly-owned foreign subsidiary with no legal right to do business in the Philippines, it retains its stranglehold on our corrupted electoral system, and is poised to repeat in a few months its scandalous rigging of the past two elections.
Restore the PCOS security features
Certainly the odds are not in our favor, but there may still be time, limited though it may be—-so long as we do not waste it—- to restore all the safety and security features and accuracy mechanisms which the previous Comelec boards had removed, in violation of law, from the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, such as the Voter Verification System, to ensure a thorough screening of voters, the digital signatures, to authenticate the recording and transmittal of votes, etc.; to replace the corrupted motherboard, which is the primary component of the voting machine, but which can now be remotely activated by outside instrumentation; and allow all legitimate parties to review the source code, as certified by an independent body to have complied with all industry standards, rather than one that is of questionable origin and totally untested.
Making the revolution unnecessary
In the face of our people’s mounting distrust of our politicians and their undisguised efforts to dictate the results of the next election, if it is not weaned from Malacañang’s partisan clutches, the Comelec ought to be able to show our people that, despite its sorry misconduct during the Jose Melo and Brillantes chairmanships, it has not lost the capacity to act independently of the dominant partisan forces, and conduct an election that could make the growing demand for “revolution” unnecessary and out of sync.
Under Chairman Bautista, who will be long in office after President B. S. Aquino 3rd is gone, the Comelec could still, if it so desires, rediscover and reclaim its sovereign right and supreme duty to make our electoral democracy work. It is under no compulsion to join the Aquino regime as it fades into its inevitable dark night. Will it rise to the challenge?